Friday, 18 July 2014

Zweletemba - The Homestay Weekend!

Today, I was looking through the photographs on my phone that I have taken during this trip and I stumbled across some that I myself did not take. The photos were taken by Dimpho, the granddaughter of my host mother during the weekend stay in Zweletemba, a township outside of Worcester. We stayed in Zweletemba from Friday night to Sunday morning with a group of students from the University of Virginia.

A selfie of Dimpho with my arm in the background.
For me, this entire trip has been centered around relationships. This entire time I've been trying to form relationships and reaping the benefits inherent to making to new friends with my fellow students on this trip, with the other American students we meet in Cape Town, with the students we have met here at UCT, with the people I work with at the Desmond Tutu HIV Foundation Youth Center, and with people in South Africa in general. Some of the most incredible relationships I formed during my time here in South Africa are with Adalina, my host mother, and her two grandchildren that lived down the street, Dimpho and Tsepang. 

I find it pretty incredible how comfortable Adalina was letting four American students stay in her house for the weekend. She welcomed us immediately and let us help set the table, serve the food, and wash the dishes. I spent a large portion of my Saturday morning sweeping the house and helping Dimpho do laundry and then Ben, Dimpho, Tsepang and I walked to the spaza shop, the equivalent of a corner store, to buy some plasters, or band-aids, for Adalina. Much of the weekend was spent walking around Zweletemba with Dimpho and Tsepang, playing soccer with Tsepang and Ben, watching cartoons over our meals, and letting Dimpho braid my hair. 

Lively banter between Tsepang and myself as Ben fetches the ball. Photo by Dimpho.

I went into the homestay knowing that my host family would have a huge impact on me and that I would learn a lot about them. We were told, both by Lisa and by the faculty members in the group from the University of Virginia, that we were staying with families who have hosted foreign students before but that we would have a large impact on the host families as well. I kind of disregarded this statement; I figured I was only staying in their house for two days, it would be fun, I would leave, and they would just forget about me. During my stay there, however, I realized that I was wrong. While Adalina and her family may not remember me, per say, each group of students that they host allows them to glimpse into a lifestyle that is completely different from their own.

Adalina and her family were well off compared to many other people living in Zweletemba, but compared to us, their guests, they don’t have very much. Through the students that they host, however, they have been exposed to certain possessions that we take for granted and that they can't imagine owning. The example that comes most easily to my mind is when Dimpho asked me if she could see my phone. I handed her the little Samsung brick I’m using in South Africa. She glanced at me disbelievingly saying, “I mean your real phone! You don’t use this all the time!” She was completely right. I have an iPhone and an apple laptop and so many things that she doesn’t. 

It’s extremely telling to me that she expected me to own a smartphone. That means that the previous students her grandmother hosted left a lasting impression on her. Her younger brother, Tsepang, also expected all of us American students to have phones with games on them and kept asking us if he could use our phones. So when I say that I personally may not have made a huge impact on their lives, the students that they have hosted and will host leave a collective trace in Adalina's household.

Tsepang and Ben have an intense moment in front of the goal.
Despite the very obvious differences in our material possessions, Dimpho, Tsepang, and I connected and developed meaningful relationships built off a mutual love of jumping rope, playing soccer, and watching cartoons. I enjoyed the homestay immensely. It was great to get to know Ben, John, and Aaron, my housemates, as well as Adalina, her husband, her daughter, and her grandchildren.

Yes, I had several years and several inches on him but it was still a close match.
Adalina’s parting words to Ben and myself were, “I hope to see you again, but if I don’t, I’ll see you up there.” As she said that, she pointed up at the sky. I’m not religious but she is, and that statement meant a lot coming from her. Ndiyaku thanda. That’s Xhosa for “I love you,” and I was able to say those words to Andalina, Dimpho, and Tsepang after only two days. The homestay is an experience that I will always remember and will be a constant reminder for me of the connections we can make with other people and the impact we can have on others.

Written by Sarah Ragen

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